When we read the Bible and witness the absolute and supreme power of God, often times it can makes us wonder, “Does God force us to love him?”
God Does Not Force Us to Love Him Because God Is a Person
God is sovereign in all that does. Whatever he wants to happen will happen (Psalm 115:3). With that said, God is a person, not a robot. A person has feelings, emotions, and desires. A person can be full of joy and hurt. God is very different than us in his personhood because he is not a human person (although Jesus is fully God and fully man), but he is a person nonetheless.
God elects his people, a thought too grand for our human minds to really comprehend. But this biblical truth does not contradict other biblical truths, such as God’s respect for human free will. God seeks to draw us to him with loving kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). He pursues us and tries to win us over with his goodness, his mercy, and his blessings. He will do whatever it takes to bring a person to him, even bringing about calamity and disasters.
The Fact that God Allows Us to Run from Him Proves He Does Not Force Us to Love Him
So even in all of God’s absolute authority and supreme power to do whatever he wants, God still treats us with respect by allowing our choices to matter. This may seem to contradict the sovereignty of God, but it only does in our finite minds. God is able to sovereignly bring to pass whatever he wants while also allowing humans to retain the very thing that makes them real persons: freedom to make choices.
Therefore when we reject God through consistent disobedience and ask him to leave us alone in our sin, God does not force his hand on us. He will pursue and seek us out, but when we ask him to leave us alone through our disobedience or our direct requests, he does what we ask.
Certainly his motive in removing his presence and favor is to help people realize how good he is by how bad their lives will become without him. Like the father to the prodigal son, God really does let us go when we want to run away, but he certainly always hopes we will come to our senses and come back to him.
In Luke 8, Jesus sets a demon possessed man free and sends the demons into a herd of pigs who then run off a cliff and drawn. Jesus came to proclaim the gospel to this town so that they might believe and be saved (Mark 1:38). But after seeing what happened to this demon possessed man, Luke 8:37 states, “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.”
Jesus knew that without him, all of these people would never have a relationship with his Father. Without him, they would all be doomed forever. He came to save them, but they asked him to leave. In his power, God could have forced himself on these people; but rather than overrule their request, he granted it. Likewise, although God can do whatever he wants, when we ask him to get out of our lives, the most unexpected and scary thing happens: he grants our request.
When asked why God allows tragedies like 9/11 to happen, Ann Graham, daughter of Billy Graham, answered, “For years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?”
We can’t have it both ways. God is seeking to draw us to him through loving kindness because he is a sovereign gentleman, able to do whatever he wills and unwilling to force his love upon us or force our love to be given to him. None of us would want it any other way.
While God Does Not Force Us to Love Him, He Does Empower Us to Love Him
God doesn’t force his love on us and he does not force us to love him. With that said, it would be impossible for the human heart to love God without God the Holy Spirit empowering it. God initiates our love for him (John 6:44), God give us the desire to love him (Philippians 2:13), and God gives us the power to love him (Galatians 5:22).
God freely justifies us. This means that he makes us holy, righteous, and literally transfers the perfections of Christ onto us. Sanctification, however, is the lifelong process of learning to live out what God has already made you and given you. Justification is done to us. Sanctification includes our willingness to participate in our growth.
For example: The Father has given us the Holy Spirit so we can understand the Scriptures. If you choose not to read your Bible, however, you are not going to grow in knowledge. The Father has given us the Holy Spirit to produces the fruits of the Spirit, which includes love. But if we choose not to be “led by the Spirit” we will not produces this fruit as much as we could have, “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
God is the only reason you can produce a real love for God. But you must still participate and actively choose to walk in the Spirit, to obey God, not backslide, and love God.
God Does Not Force Us To Love Him Because Love Can’t Be Forced
Some may think that this means God really does force us to love him. Forcing love, however, is simply not a biblical category. Nowhere in the Bible is there a situation where someone wanted to hate God but God made them love him. Whenever God elects and saves us, he sets our will free by awakening our true desire to love God. God’s sovereignty does not violate our free will, it sets our will free. We were made to love God, thus when we do we are not being forced to love him; rather, we are simply doing what we want to do at the core of who we are when we are set free from the bondage of sin.
When something is not your choice, God doesn’t command you to do it. You are forced to exist, forced to feel, forced to be human. Therefore God never commands you do these things because you don’t have a choice. God commands us to love him because we have to choose to do it. All of God’s commands are a choice, which is why he tells us to do them. If God’s commands were not a choice, like the command to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5,) then God would say nothing about them and simply force us to do them without our knowledge.
Additionally, God’s judgment is based on human choice. Romans 2:6-8 states:
[God] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
God Does Not Force Our Love Because He Is the Sovereign Gentleman.
In conclusion, we want God to have the power to be God, but we also want to retain our humanness to choose. So being the sovereign gentleman that he is, he will allow us to make real choices with real consequences. When we ask him to leave our lives through our disobedience and stubbornness, he does just that. With all that said, when God elects us, he empowers us to love him.
Without the sovereignty of God, our wills would be slaves to sin. God does not violate our free will, he simply sets our will free so we are able to love him like we were originally designed to do. God does not force us to love him, but he does grant us the ability to love him and the desire to love him, which all Christians choose to obey.